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Native Americans in Wisconsin Urged To Get Out and Vote

The Midwestern state of Wisconsin is one of those where the race between Republican President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, is still too close to call. A strong effort is being made to get Native Americans to exercise their right to vote.

On an intersection near the University of Wisconsin campus, activists hold up signs urging passing motorists to "Honk if you love John Kerry." But while people are free to voice their opinion on street corners, some voting rights advocates worry that other voices might not be heard where it counts, at the ballot box.

"The native vote watch effort is a small portion of a much larger national effort, to assure that no one is denied the right to vote because of ignorance by a poll judge or deliberate suppression effort or misinformation of any kind," said Brian Pierson, an attorney based in Milwaukee, who's helping out a 14-state effort to safeguard the Native American vote.

He adds in recent elections across the United States, concerns over voter intimidation and misinformation have surfaced in "Indian Country," areas of the country with large populations of Native Americans. To that end, Mr. Pierson and organizers with the National Congress of American Indians are working to protect native people's right to vote, in many key states like Wisconsin.

Heather Dawn Thompson is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and national coordinator for the Native Vote Watch project. Miss Thompson says Native Americans need to put aside any fears that they will be prevented from voting and act.

"We have lawyers that are trained to deal with these issues, do not be intimidated, you absolutely have the right to vote," she said. "And the country is listening to the Indian Vote louder than it ever has in the past. This is our chance to really have our voices heard."

The presidential race is expected to be a very close, with pre-election polls showing President Bush and Senator Kerry nearly tied. Many tribal leaders think that swing groups like Native Americans can have a major impact on the race, as long as they vote.